After one miraculous feeding of bread and fish and more than one detailed explanation concerning how Jesus compares his spiritual teachings to physical nourishment, Jesus’ interlocutors are not getting the intended message. Something isn’t sinking in. They don’t get “it”. They realize he’s different and he may be onto something. Jesus is both like and unlike Moses in key ways. Despite these pieces falling into place, they are not quite “there” yet. You can tell they’re not quite there by the questions they pose and the statements they make. Chiefly among them, they know he’s Jesus. As verse 42 says, “They asked, ‘Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son whose mother and father we know?’”
This is Jesus, the very same one. How can it be that this guy is that guy? It may be that everything he says makes sense. He’s fed my family for the first time in days, if not weeks. But this is Jesus. We know Jesus. Jesus is supposed to be God. You’re telling me this? We know God’s parents, his mother, father, sister, and brother? Is that right? So how could Jesus be God if he’s just a guy whose family everyone knows? That’s not how God works, is it?
This was a huge question for 1st century Christians to consider. In the 9th decade, when John’s gospel was written, questions of Jesus’ identity were still in the forefront of church discussion some sixty years after his death. Who was Jesus, what did Jesus believe in, what were his priorities, and was he really who he said he was? Those were the kinds of questions they asked themselves; questions borne of familiarity with each other’s families, relationships, and personal histories. The early church knew where they began and where Jesus started. Knowing each place, their own personal stories and scripture allowed them to realize the full impact of Jesus’ teachings.
In our defensive, shutdown and fight mode, many in United Methodism have stopped asking about Jesus’ beliefs and priorities. Instead, as we look toward General Conference we’ve given a new primacy to the Book of Discipline and the arcane interpretations of doctrine which defined 19th century pre-Civil War American Methodism. Those who choose to look toward Jesus’ model of all inclusive love are called individualists, denying the collective good of the connection, even self-serving narcissists. I am willing to bet all of the money of my minimum salary appointment the same claims were made by the Pharisees about Jesus and his ministry. “Jesus is self-serving narcissist with no respect for the traditions of the past and the books of discipline which keep us in religious line”, I can hear it being said in the temple courts. When I imagine such dialogue, I smile.
If Jesus were to perform a same sex union, in a United Methodist Church, today, I wonder which one of my Book of Discipline loving colleagues would be the first to file a complaint against such a self-serving narcissist who is only trying to get more followers from the economic margins and undermine the religious establishment by challenging the stale religious orthodoxy and patriarchal hegemony?
You know Joseph and Mary’s son? Did you hear what he did? I heard he was out making things we believed to radically incompatible, compatible. Over and over again, things we didn’t believed meshed or could ever occur, he made both function and flourish.
His name is Jesus; you probably call him the son of God on Sunday mornings. I’m not sure I want to know what you call him the rest of the week. He’s stirring up some more kind of trouble now. Next thing you know, he’ll be saying, people will live for ever in some kind of eternal paradise and they ought to love their enemies. That Jesus. You know, he’s Joseph and Mary’s son.